Walking Our Faith: What to do about unanswered prayers (column)
October 26, 2018
On Wednesday mornings the men arrive at Saint John the Baptist at 7 to study the Bible for an hour. At 8 a.m. I arrive for work and join the men in the chapel for a very unique communion service. Rector Charlie Brumbaugh sits in a chair in front of the pews, we recite the opening prayers and then Charlie reads the Gospel for the coming Sunday. Then he opens it up for discussion. "What do you think it means?" he will ask. Five or six people will express an opinion, no two opinions are the same, and I believe we learn something from each. Afterward we circle the altar and receive communion.
This Sunday's Gospel reading spoke to me for the circumstances in my own life. I'd like to share it with you.
"As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, 'Jesus son of David, have pity on me.' Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him,' so they called the blind man, saying to him, 'Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.' He threw aside his cloak and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him, 'What do you want me to do for you?' The blind man replied to him, 'Master I want to see.' Jesus told him, 'Go your way, your faith has saved you.' Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way." (Mark 10:46-52.)
Over the past month, I wake each night at 3 a.m., my mind filled with anxious thoughts about my career and my future in Breckenridge. I pray and ask God to help me. Some nights my prayers are a lengthy laundry list of all the things that need to be fixed and areas in which I need help. Other nights when I am most anxious, my prayers are as simple as "God please help me."
In other words, I'm worrying about the future. And who isn't? What mother, of any age, doesn't lie awake some nights worrying about her children? What father doesn't do the same? What business owner, artist or salaried employee doesn't wonder if they'll have enough money to retire? In our rational minds, we understand the futility of worrying about something that hasn't happened. But that doesn't stop our imaginations from running amok. In Luke 12:25-26 we read of the futility of worry: "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?"
And yet we do worry. And then we worry about our lack of answers. Because I have not received an answer to my prayer because my circumstances have not changed and do not seem to be getting better, I wonder why God is not answering and how will I find sleep again, I am so very tired.
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When I heard the Gospel for this Sunday, two thoughts came to me. First, when the blind man approached Jesus, Jesus said to him, "What do you want from me?" Wasn't that obvious? The man was blind. Of course, he would want his blindness healed, but I think this passage makes an important point that perhaps Jesus views our prayers differently than we do.
When I look back on my life, I see times when I have prayed desperately for a particular outcome and was disappointed when it was not received. Yet these years later, I thank God my prayers were not answered in the way that I asked. It turns out God's plan was infinitely better than my own. And so when Jesus asks the blind man what he wants, Jesus also asks us whether we are asking for God's best plan or our own plan.
The second point I learned from Sunday's Gospel was raised by one of the men in the group on Wednesday morning. He said the cloak that was worn by the blind man signified his disability and when he stepped toward Jesus he threw off his cloak. To me, this demonstrates an act of trust that he would be healed, similarly our prayers will be answered.
I am currently reading a small book by Julian of Norwich, a medieval English mystic and spiritual writer. She wrote, "God desires us to know the fruit and outcome of our prayer, to be united and similar to our Lord in all things. God intends our prayer and trust to be magnanimous. If we do not trust as much as we pray, we do not honor God fully, and we place obstacles in our path. This happens because we do not realize that God himself is the foundation of our praying, our very ability to pray is a gift of his loving presence."
When we face periods of unanswered prayer, we must continue to pray, continue to trust God, and use this time for a twofold purpose: to draw closer to God rather than allowing our discouragement or frustration to distance ourselves from God; and to trust in God's perfect outcome in the situation. We draw closer to God and our relationship with God is deepened through the trial of unanswered prayer.
Yes, I believe we are called to continue to work on our own behalf, just as the blind man called out to Jesus with courage and insistence, and then had to get up and walk toward Jesus, still as a blind man, when Jesus called his name. We too must get up and continue our work, while we simultaneously walk toward Jesus, toward a deeper relationship with him. Ultimately, however, our deeper relationship with God is our greatest strength and the most precious outcome of our prayers during the journey through unanswered prayers. The rest, I believe, will fall into place in a way that is better than our own mind could ever imagine. Amen. Amen.
Suzanne Anderson lives in Breckenridge and can be reached at email@example.com. Her books are available at the Next Page Books and Nosh in Frisco.
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